Seven Hysterically Funny Localization Fails In Advertising

Seven Hysterically Funny Localization Fails In Advertising

In the field of marketing, advertising mistakes in foreign countries are mostly associated with bad localization – which in turn might lead to offended consumers, low sales or a complete failure to consolidate into a market segment effectively. As an example of not-so-funny cross-cultural market blunders is Nike’s 1997 Flaming Air logo that looked very much like the word “Allah” in Arabic and spawned a series of reprisals from the Muslim community.

Although advertising is not always positive or genial, everyone has to make mistakes before they learn, as most of us already know. When considering such fact, when doing some research you may find that even advertising giants like Coke and Pepsi make mistakes – bad mistakes –  especially when trying to get into markets in countries with languages so different from their own, like Spanish, Chinese and even Portuguese.

If it is hard to believe that a team of marketing and translation experts are capable of messing up even after spending so much time, energy, and money on a project then check out this list of cultural blunders in advertising.

  1. Coke

Believe it or not, Coke has its own marketing translation fails. As soon as it went to China, Coca-Cola was pronounced "ke-kou-ke-la", which is translated as "bite the waxed tadpole", a somewhat exotic name for a drink name. In another dialect, it meant "female horse stuffed with wax," which after the pronunciation was changed to "ko-kou-ko-le", changed to "happiness in the mouth."

  1. KFC

Also as the culprit of translation blunders, KFC made a big mistake with its famous “finger licking good” slogan when they opened a branch in China in 1987. In the translation, this turned "we'll eat your fingers off," or "we'll rip and eat your fingers." Let’s just say not many customers dared to put their fingers in the buckets.

  1. Coors

This American beer company has the slogan "Turn it loose", which should have an easygoing double meaning. Yet, for the greatest part of the Spanish audience, the translation meant something like "suffer from diarrhoea," which is not a proper advertisement for beers.

Read also: How to translate document from Vietnamese to English professionally and avoid mistakes?


  1. Pepsi

Another brand that did not work in China at the beginning was Pepsi, which back in the 60s and 70s had the slogan “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation!”. But again, in China, it was translated to something along the lines of "we bring your ancestors back from the dead".

  1. Ford Pinto

This is yet another of those classical cross-cultural advertising mistakes. In 1971, Ford launched the Ford Pinto in Brazil, but this super-compact had a very low sales rate and no one understood why. That is because “pinto” in Brazilian Portuguese is one of the ways men call their genitalia and to have a car named like that would call forth far too many jokes, especially when going to the mechanic.

Read also: List of top website localization companies to get the best translation and localization for your website.


  1. Braniff Airlines

In 1977, Braniff Airlines inaugurated first-class passenger leather seats with a somewhat suggestive ad: "Fly in leather". Once again, despite the already slightly pornographic tone, the worst happened with the Spanish translation: "vuela en cuero", which means "fly naked". With this, Braniff probably realized that translating things into Spanish is not all that easy.

Useful information: The best online certified translation services reviewed by PickWriters' expert team.

  1. Parker

The last of our list of language mistakes in advertising is Parker and its venture into the Mexican market. The company had a slogan that already left an opening to several impure thoughts, "It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you," and for its audience in Latin America, this became even more evident. Due to a mistake in translation, the company chose the word “embarazar” thinking it meant “embarrassed”. However, "embarazar" in Spanish translates “pregnant”, which generated a rather strange announcement: "it does not leak into your pocket and makes you pregnant."